Kouki, the charismatic vocalist of the visual kei rock band D=OUT eagerly accepted the invitation to perform at Otakon, a revered gathering for anime enthusiasts and one of the largest Japanese culture conventions on the eastern seaboard.

Otakon‘s history is adorned with the presence of visual kei legends, having previously hosted luminaries such as YOSHIKI and L’arc-en-ciel. As we delve into the exciting events of Otakon 2023, it becomes evident just how significant this year’s gathering was.

A record-breaking celebration of Japanese culture

From July 2830, the three-day event united thousands of Japanese culture enthusiasts at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in the US Capitol, Washington DC. Otakon 2023 marked a historic milestone, smashing previous attendance records with an estimated crowd of over 42 thousand attendees. It not only set a new record for attendance but also became the most highly attended event in Washington DC since the start of the post-pandemic era.

Given the enormity of this gathering and the legacy of his icons YOSHIKI and HYDE, Kouki faced a daunting task. Crowds of enthusiastic fans eagerly gathered to experience Kouki’s electrifying performances on both Friday and Saturday nights, filling the ballroom at the nearby Washington Marriott Marquee.

Kouki warmly welcomes an enthusiastic sea of fans during his debut Otakon performance on Friday, filling the expansive ballroom.Chaotic Harmony

As JROCK NEWS joined a legion of dedicated visual kei fans gathered around the stage, the venue buzzed with anticipation. Many in the crowd were already acquainted with D=OUT’s extensive discography, and some had even witnessed his performance alongside HIZAKI at Nekocon in 2022. With Kouki taking the stage solo in the United States for the very first time, the audience held high expectations for this groundbreaking moment.

Dynamic live performances

Both concerts began with the performance of the song Mandara A (曼陀羅A). This song serves as a brilliant showcase of Kouki and his band D=OUT’s raison d’être, seamlessly melding the unique atmosphere, instruments, and motifs of Japan with a rock and roll flair. Just before the chorus, Kouki engaged the crowd, encouraging them to join in and sing the musical bridge.

ダウト『曼陀羅A』 Music Video

The ballroom at the Marriott Marquee had been arranged for a seated performance, and on Friday afternoon, the attendees were initially reserved, remaining in their seats. Nevertheless, Kouki’s contagious energy and enthusiasm quickly won them over, prompting them to rise to their feet during the second song, KYOKUTOU OGRE. As Kouki later mentioned in our interview with him, the crowd expressed their enthusiasm in various ways, including pumping fists in the air, nodding their heads to the beat, and even breaking into dance.

Kouki commands the stage, captivating the audience and igniting them to rise to their feet.Chaotic Harmony

Following the third performance in his set, Kanden 18 Gou (感電18号), Kouki established a genuine connection with the audience through an emcee session. He conducted this interaction entirely in English, introducing himself and sharing his profound passion for visual kei.

Standing at six feet tall, the platinum blonde towered above the raised stage, allowing for direct eye contact with the audience. When addressing the crowd, he spoke with the warmth of reuniting with an old friend, charming his longtime fans, and enchanting numerous newcomers with his engaging and charismatic presence.

Then, Kouki prepared the crowd for the next performance in his set, a cover of Gurenge (紅蓮草) from the smash-hit anime Demon Slayer. This well-thought-out selection, which he had previously performed at Nekocon, captivated newcomers by offering a passionate and recognizable tune. Throughout the audience, small groups of attendees enthusiastically joined in, singing along to the Japanese lyrics they knew.

After the following performance of Kabuki Disco (歌舞伎デスコ), the setlist diverged on both Friday and Saturday nights, featuring a selection of tracks spanning D=OUT’s 16-year career.

On Friday, the lineup included the slow and romantic ballad Senkou Hanabi (閃光花火), notable for its captivating shamisen solos. Additionally, Kouki treated the audience to Ten (天), one of D=OUT’s latest singles released earlier in the year.

On Saturday, the setlist featured the catchy and energizing track Manji (卍), along with D=OUT’s upbeat and popular hit Hanasaka Beauty (花咲ビューティー).

Kouki’s mastery of traditional Japanese arts

What distinguishes Kouki as a live performer is his incorporation of traditional Japanese arts. On both nights, he left the audience spellbound with a mesmerizing fan dance, where the glinting gold leaf added a touch of magic to the dimly lit ballroom. During the Friday night Q&A session, Kouki even generously offered a demonstration of his fan artistry, slowing down his movements to allow attendees to fully appreciate the fluidity of each gesture.

During both renditions of Gurenge, Kouki held the audience in rapt attention as he sang. He skillfully twirled a vivid violet paper parasol, deftly catching it in mid-air with each spin. As members of the audience, we were completely immersed in his culturally rich world, savoring every moment of the artistic performance. Indeed, Kouki’s mastery of traditional Japanese arts was unmistakable, evident in his graceful abilities showcased throughout the weekend.

On Saturday, Kouki gracefully wields his artistic tool of choice—a Japanese folding fan used in traditional dance.Chaotic Harmony

The sensory feast of visual kei

In addition to Kouki’s evident talent, the performances successfully exported the striking world of visual kei to the United States. Every detail, from the attire to the creative use of the venue’s technology, was carefully considered and thoughtfully executed.

During both nights of the event, Kouki made a memorable entrance in stunning costumes adorned with vibrant Japanese textiles and intricately embroidered designs. On Friday, he sported baggy pants and a tailored jacket, channeling the style reminiscent of Japanese “yanki” gangsters. On Saturday, his attire took on a more refined appearance, featuring voluminous hakama-style pants matched with a wide-sleeved white and red jacket. Additionally, he adorned a long blue and red ponytail extension, a distinctive element that had also been showcased in Otakon’s street fashion show.

Even the venue’s projector was cleverly employed to completely transport the entire space into another realm. As Kouki performed, a dazzling display unfolded on the screen behind the stage, featuring stunning graphics and music video clips.

In one particularly lively segment, the screen came alive with images of Japanese paper floats. During this acoustic jam session, Kouki showcased his skill on the electric shamisen, with a translucent yellow pick dancing across the guitar’s three resonating strings.

Kouki strikes a dramatic pose against the backdrop of a music video.Chaotic Harmony

An unforgettable connection

While the weekend’s events unfolded in a whirlwind of vibrant colors, one unifying theme remained constant: Kouki’s sincere and heartfelt connection with the audience. Throughout the concerts, he actively engaged the crowd through call-and-response interactions and even ventured off the stage to make contact with fans, running all the way to the back of the venue to ensure that even disabled guests and those in the rear were included.

The concert reached its conclusion with a profoundly heartfelt moment. Kouki unveiled both a Japanese and American flag from beneath his podium. He then climbed on top of the elevated surface, raising both flags into the air before tenderly embracing them with a joyful smile.

These two specific moments resonated deeply with us, serving as poignant reminders of what we had longed for during the challenging COVID-19 pandemic: the authentic connections and shared emotions that characterize in-person events. Live music in particular possesses the magical ability to captivate audiences, transcending language barriers and geographical boundaries, uniting people in shared joy.

We eagerly anticipate the future adventures on Kouki’s mission, confident that he will be warmly received wherever his journey takes him. In the meantime, stay tuned for our upcoming interview with Kouki looking back at Otakon, and towards the future!

Kouki appears deeply moved by the diverse and enthusiastic Otakon audience.Chaotic Harmony

Kouki at Otakon 2023

Setlist Friday, July 28, 2023

  1. Mandara A ()
  3. Kanden 18 Gou (感電18号)
  4. MC
  5. Gurenge (紅蓮草)
  6. Kabuki Disco ()
  7. Senkou Hanabi (閃光花火)
  8. MC
  9. Isseifuubi Fact (一世風靡ファクト)
  10. Hannya (般若)
  11. Kigan (鬼願)
  12. Ten (天)

Setlist Saturday, July 29, 2023

  1. Mandara A (曼陀羅A)
  3. Kanden 18 Gou (感電18号)
  4. MC
  5. Gurenge (紅蓮草)
  6. Kabuki Disco ()
  7. Manji (卍)
  8. MC
  9. Isseifuubi Fact (一世風靡ファクト)
  10. Hannya (般若)
  11. Kigan (鬼願)
  12. Hanasaka Beauty (花咲ビューティー)
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